Thursday, 8 November 2012

Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway woes

I've written before about the Delhi-Gurgaon expressway, which has one major problem - its toll plaza is chronically congested.

The reasons for this are clear.  The plaza is too small, throughput is inefficient and there is insufficient use of modern tolling technology.  So how is it going to be fixed?  Well the government thought it could be solved by going to court, so operator DS Construction was facing a court case brought by the National Highway Authority of India.  An out of court settlement sees the operator return about US$70 million to five public sector banks that provided loans for the road.  

DS Construction has since been asked by the Punjab-Haryana High Court to prepare a report on how to improve traffic flow according to Hindu Business.

Ideas include the following:
- Waiving the US$29 fee for tag users, and cutting the monthly account charge by a third;
- Adding four reversible lanes at the congested toll plaza;
- Introducing toll collectors walking with hand held devices along queues to accelerate payment;
- Penalising non-tag users who enter tag lanes.

The Hindu Business Line says that an out of court settlement has been reached about the road.   Charges for prepaid users are to be cut by a third, which will encourage a shift from cash to account payment.  Smart cards will also be available for faster payment in cash lanes.

Meanwhile, Rohit Baluja,  President, Institute of Road Traffic Education in an article in the Times of India claims the problem is because of a lack of indigenous Indian traffic engineering capability  There has been a total lack in the application of traffic engineering. Most developed countries have traffic engineering centres in cities as well as for the highways. But India hardly has any functional or scientifically operated traffic engineering centres, as most of such services are outsourced to consultants.

Of course this isn't a clear explanation, what is more important is being able to procure concessionaires and specify service standards that require them to get consultants to deliver outcomes that are sought.  

He is right in saying that technology and engineering could help solve the issues on the expressway, but  this is a governance matter.  He is also right that traffic management needs to be integrated and development of new highways must also be reflected in works on the roads that they connect with.

India's rapid growth in traffic will mean both the new tolled routes and the routes they bypass will need to be upgraded, which means having an approach to highway funding and governance that radically changes the relationship between government, concessionaires and road users.  There is a path forward, it is not ad hoc changes to meet individual cases, but a strategic approach to the long term maintenance, construction and operation of national strategic highways.

Meanwhile, The Times of India has published a rather odd review of electronic tolling technologies that briefly considers Singapore, Dubai, France and Toronto.  It is largely correct as far as it goes, but it should have considered technologies rather than locations.  For example, there are a wide range of electronically operated barrier systems, fully free flow DSRC based electronic systems (with variations between passive and battery powered systems), automatic number plate recognition based systems and (completely ignored in this case) GNSS based tolling.   What will happen in the future is likely to see vehicles equipped with communications and vehicle ID technology at source, and for smartphones and vehicles to be connected to better enable automated options for toll collection.

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